These painted pieces extend across and meet the sides to form the rim of the chassis, components that give this phone a feeling of rigidity, much like the PlayBook before it. But, unlike that tablet, here the soft-touch exterior doesn't carry around the back of the device. The Z10 features a removable backplate, made of plastic and given a thick, rubberized, dimpled coating. It does make for a device that's easy to hold in one hand securely, with no worries about it slipping and falling, but it lacks the premium look and feel of the tapered carbon-fiber back on the 9900, and even the faux leather on the 9700. This is not a phone that says "prestige" in any way.
You might be inclined to think this is a much bigger device than the 9900, and indeed with a 4.2-inch, 1,280 x 768 display it's certainly far from petite. But, at 66mm (2.6 inches) wide, it's actually a fraction of a millimeter narrower than the most recent Bold. It's only slightly taller, too, at 130mm (5.13 inches) vs. 115mm (4.5 inches) but, thankfully, it's far thinner: 9.3mm (0.37 inch) vs. the 11mm (0.43 inch) of its QWERTY-bearing predecessor.
Inset above the pane of (non-Gorilla) glass is a wide, gunmetal speaker grille that covers the earpiece. Just below that, protected beneath the glass, are the front-facing, 2-megapixel camera and a notification LED. That sensor can record 720p video, but if you want full-quality 1080p stuff you'll need to rely on the 8-megapixel rear-facing unit, situated in the top-left corner of the back and paired with a small LED flash.
Discrete buttons allow you to raise or lower volume, while a third button in the middle acts as a play / pause button and also toggles BlackBerry's new Siri-like Voice Control.
Buttons are few, the one of primary import being the sleep / wake toggle, found in the traditional BlackBerry position of top-center. On the right is another BlackBerry tradition: the three-way volume rocker. Discrete buttons allow you to raise or lower volume, while a third button in the middle acts as a play / pause button and also toggles BlackBerry's new Siri-like Voice Control. And... that's it. The Menu button is gone and there's no physical camera button this time around, either, but the volume buttons can be used as such if you don't feel like tapping on the screen.
The two primary ports for the device are situated on the left side. Here you'll find micro-USB and micro-HDMI connections nestled in close proximity toward the center. Up top is the only other easily accessible connector: the 3.5mm headphone jack. Pry off the backplate (which bends and flexes like the cases on Samsung's latest smartphones, but comes off far more easily) and you'll find a microSD slot. Unfortunately the phone doesn't support cards larger than 32GB, but the cards are at least hot-swappable, and that helps to bolster the 16GB of internal storage. The micro-SIM card is found under here, too, but its position next to the 1,800mAh battery pack necessarily means you won't be swapping that out without shutting things down.
The NFC antenna is built into the backplate, while the rest of the communications are better integrated into the chassis itself. BlackBerry will offer four separate SKUs of the Z10, effectively boiling down to one for each of the US LTE carriers (AT&T, Verizon and Sprint) plus an HSPA+ model. The version we tested offered quadband LTE at 2, 4, 5, 17 (700/850/1700/1900MHz) plus pentaband HSPA+ I, II, IV, V, VI (800/850/1700/1900/2100MHz) and quadband EDGE. A second LTE / CDMA model, presumably intended for Verizon, offers LTE band 13 (700MHz), dual-band CDMA (800/1900MHz), dual-band HSPA+ I, VIII (900/2100MHz) and quadband EDGE. A third LTE model offers quad-band LTE at 3, 7, 8, 20 (800/9001800/2600MHz), quadband HSPA+ at I, V, VI, VIII (800/850/900/2100MHz) and quadband EDGE. Finally, there's the pentaband HSPA+ model at I, II, V, VI, VIII (800/850/900/1900/2100MHz) with quadband EDGE. Those are all paired with 802.11a/b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0, while the phone also offers an accelerometer, gyro, magnetometer and, of course, GPS.
Call quality was about average -- recipients had no problem understanding us -- but we were told we definitely sounded like we were calling on a cellphone. Transmitted volume was also a bit low, meaning we had to speak up to get the same level of output as compared to a few other handsets we tried.
Volume levels also troubled us on the receiving side. The speakerphone built into the device has a disappointingly slight maximum output. BlackBerry handsets quite often get used for impromptu conference calls, plunked face-down in the middle of a conference room table, but with the Z10 you'll want to make sure you go to a quiet place before attempting this. Similarly, we often had a hard time hearing the voice in the navigation app, even with the volume all the way up.
Again, it's a 4.2-inch display on offer here, a huge amount of space compared to the relatively cramped 9900. That, of course, comes thanks to the deletion of the QWERTY keyboard, trackpad and physical buttons. Other than the token volume controls on the right side, this is a full-touch device, and here the glass surface is recessed beneath a slightly protruding frame. This is in contrast to many other recent smartphones, like the Galaxy S III or Lumia 920, which project the glass upward somewhat to give your thumbs a smooth transition off the edge to nothingness, a tactile experience we've come to prefer. We're told this is to protect the display and, since it isn't Gorilla Glass, perhaps it needs it.
That LCD here offers a healthy resolution of 1,280 x 768, just slightly beating 720p and offering a fine pixel density of 356 ppi. This means text is rendered incredibly clearly, making web surfing a pleasure and photo viewing quite comfortable as well. The panel is very capable in other regards, too. It's officially rated at 800 nits, which is quite high for a mobile panel, making it easily visible outdoors in direct sunlight. Contrast and color saturation are also quite good and viewing angles excel when you're looking at the phone on either the left or right sides. That said, tilting the phone up or down introduces a slight yellowish hue to everything. It's hardly distracting, but it is noticeable.
On the back of the BlackBerry Z10 is an 8-megapixel camera, capable of taking 1080p stabilized video. We put it through its paces in a variety of situations and found it to be a decent shooter, but not a world-class one.
We struggled a bit with the interface. The camera is reasonably quick to focus and even quicker to capture images, not matching the rapid-fire shooting of the iPhone 5, but letting you capture roughly one shot per second. (If you need more, switch over to Burst mode, which takes two to three photos per second for as long as you hold your finger down.) As mentioned above, you can use the volume buttons if you're really craving something physical to press, but we found it more comfortable to just tap on the screen -- though that didn't react as we'd expect.
We've become used to tapping on the portion of the image we'd like to be in focus, something that doesn't work in BlackBerry 10.
We've become used to tapping on the portion of the image we'd like to be in focus, something that doesn't work in BlackBerry 10. You have to actually tap and drag the focusing reticle to where you want it before tapping again to take the shot, a process that can take just long enough for you to miss what you're trying to capture. And, should you need a second shot, you'll need to drag that reticle around once more.
Helping to ensure you won't need a second shot -- at least when trying to take pictures of smiling faces -- is the Time Shift feature. It's very similar to the Smart Group Shot feature Nokia threw in its Lumia line courtesy of Scalado, capturing a blast of photos then letting you selectively cycle through individual faces so that everyone is looking their best -- or their worst, if you're a terrible friend. When it works, it works amazingly well, but unfortunately it wasn't always successful in our testing. We often had to take three or four shots before it would detect everyone's faces. In particular it had a hard time picking up mugs of the hirsute variety, which posed a bit of a problem for this particular reviewer.
Standard stills taken when plenty of lighting is available are bright and clear, showing great contrast and color. However, focus was quite often off, resulting in a number of very soft photos. Manually dragging the reticle where we wanted it and waiting for the camera to refocus usually worked, but in times when we simply wanted the camera to focus on what's in the center of frame, it didn't always do that -- at least, not quickly enough to capture a good photo.